I love Christmas. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday. I’m not really a winter person, but I spend the whole year looking forward to December. My love for Christmas has a very clear origin: my German family. Growing up, we would always go to Germany to spend Christmas with my moms family. My dad is Dutch and the Dutch don’t really care that much about Christmas. They have their own crazy holiday called Sinterklaas, which was never as special to me.
Christmas in my family meant that everyone would gather at my grandparents place for a three-day celebration. They would put a giant pine tree in the living room, decorated with vintage decorations and real candles. Everyone got their own plate of cookies (which my mom, aunts and grandpa spend weeks baking) and a pile of presents. We would sing carols, play board games and eat ungodly amounts of delicious food. To this day I still have to standards for overeating: regular full and Christmas full.
Growing up with the German Christmas traditions, I obviously have a deep love for anything and everything festive. Even as a digital nomad, I always make sure that I’m home for Christmas. To me, Europe, with all its different Christmas traditions is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit. I pretty much exclusive listen to Christmas music during the month of December, have an Advent calender and go to as many Christmas markets as I can.
Germany is obviously my number one place to spend Christmas, but there are a lot of places around Europe that do it (almost) just as well. There are lots of picturesque towns with great Christmas markets to choose from, but these are my favorite festive Christmas destinations in Europe:
There are Christmas markets and then there are Viennese Christmas markets. Christkindl markets as they are called in Austrian are an institution in Vienna. The tradition dates all the way back to 1298 with the first “December market”. Nowadays, there are over 20 official markets all around the city, making it one of the top Christmas destinations in Europe
The main Christmas market is the one in front of City Hall at Rathausplatz. The stately Gothic Rathaus provides the perfect backdrop for this huge market. The first floor of the building is even used childrens activities such as cookie baking and candle making. International choirs sing carols at the entrance. Outside, 150 stalls sell everything from Christmas decorations and gifts to food and drinks. There is also an ice rink and lots and lots of lights. Even though it’s touristic, it doesn’t really get more Christmassy than this.
If you want a more local experience, I recommend the Art Advent market at Karlsplatz. Here, the stalls sell cute handmade gifts, art and decorations. There is a pen in the middle with sheep and a donkey as part of a nativity scene. The food at this market is all organic as well!
If you’re looking for real Austrian souvenirs to take home, have a gander around the markets at St. Stephen Cathedral and Michealarplatz. Foodies need to stop at the market in front of the Opera to try all the delicious regional products and traditional Christmas foods.
If you can’t get enough of these markets even after Christmas, the one at Schönnbrunn Palace very cleverly turns into a New Years Market.
Planning a December trip to Vienna? Here are some more things to do there
Strasbourg calls itself the “Christmas Capital of Europe“. Quite a claim!
But to be honest, they live up to it. From mid-November, the historic inner city turns into a winter wonderland. It truly looks like someone puked Christmas onto it, in the best way possible. As someone who loves Christmas, this was definitely one of the most festive destinations in Europe that I had been.
The already picturesque half-timbered houses take on a new layer of charm in the form of lavish decorations. Twinkling lights, holly, fir branches, and toys cover the facades.
There is a Christmas market on seemingly every square where you can try out some typical Alsacian foods like bretzel and flammkuchen and wash it all down with mulled wine, mulled cider, or Christmas beer. Of course, the markets are also a great place to buy Christmas presents and local arts and crafts.
The biggest market is by the Cathedral, which offers a stunning backdrop. However, you’ll find lots of little markets as well while walking around the city. I especially liked the one near La Petite France, which is the most beautiful part of Strasbourg.
I also highly recommend taking a day trip to nearby Colmar. It takes only 30 minutes by train and is well worth the effort. Colmar is much smaller than Strasbourg and even more impossibly pretty and charming. You’ll also expierence a slightly more authentic feeling here, although both towns are quite touristy.
If you do decide to go to Germany for your dose of Christmas, might I suggest my own stomping grounds: Hamburg? When I was young, we would celebrate Christmas at my grandparents house in Düsseldorf (which also has a great Christmas market), but now we go to my aunts and uncles in Hamburg.
Hamburg is a worthwhile city year round, with lots of cool areas, but I especially love it in December. December in Hamburg means Christmas markets. There’s more than 30 of them, in all the different neighborhoods of Hamburg. The main Christmas market is at Rathaus (City Hall), a glitzy tourist affair with lots of lights and a delightful floating Santa with his sleigh who circles the market.
If you’re more into fairs than understated Christmas markets, you should check out the Hamburger Dom. This giant fair with rides, loud music, fireworks and neon lights is held three times a year, one of them from November 8 to December 8.
When you’re in Hamburg, it is only a short train ride to Lübeck. This Hanseatic city has a beautiful historic city center and a lovely Christmas market right by the Cathedral. That’s two festive Christmas destinations in Europe for the price of one!
A surprising addition to this list of festive Christmas destinations in Europe is the Estonian capital Tallinn. Christmas in Tallinn is a much smaller affair than in Germany or Austria. But by no means less atmospheric.
Tallinn has a beautiful Medieval historic city center which just screams Christmas. This fairy tale city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the perfect backdrop for a Christmas Market. Not just the market but the whole city is decorated with trees, lights and ornaments.
Tallinn was also the first city to put up a Christmas tree back in 1441. A giant Christmas tree is still the center of the market. The stalls at the market sell handicrafts, Estonian products and typical Estonian foods. The best thing about the market is Santa who the kids can visit in his house.
Tallinn is a lovely city, here all the reasons you should visit!
The capital of Germany might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of picturesque Christmas destinations in Europe. Because it isn’t. As cool as Berlin is, not many would call it quaint or charming.
Despite lacking the particular historical charm of smaller towns in Germany, Berlin does offer a lot of bang for your buck. From mid-November, the boasts dozens of Christmas markets.
From big and flashy to small and traditional, there is a market here for everyone. And why just visit one when you can visit 50?
The Christmas markets at Gendarmenmarkt, Zitadelle Spandau, and Schloss Charlottenburg have the most beautiful setting, while the markets at Rote Rathaus is the most fun for kids. The Scandinavian market at Kulturbrauerei is great for who wants to see something a bit different, as is the Medieval market at the RAW Gelände. In true Berlin fashion, the LGBTQ+ market at Nollendorfplatz is colorful and a bit kinky, with a weekly drag queen bingo show.
These are the best Christmas markets in Berlin
Of course, the main reason this city made it on my list of most festive Christmas destinations in Europe, is because Berlin is such a party town. Clubs are open 24/7 on the weekend, there’s a wild rave somewhere every night, and you’ll see people drinking beer even on a random Monday morning. Christmas markets are just one of the many things to in Berlin in winter.
Another area of Europe that does Christmas well is Scandinavia. Forget red and green, the main colors of Christmas decorations in the Nordics are red and white. The Danes love Christmas, or Yule as they call it. After all, they already celebrated it way back when it was still a pagan holiday and festival of light.
When I was in Copenhagen mid November, I was pleasantly surprised that the Christmas markets were already open. To my delight, without even trying, I stumbled upon three separate markets. A glass of mulled wine is the perfect way to warm up on a cold, rainy day.
Tivoli Gardens is also particularly beautiful at Christmas time.
Here is a guide to the best Christmas markets and events in Copenhagen
I always thought that the Germans loved Christmas the most, until I spend December in Scotland two years ago. Scots really give them a run for their money.
Edinburgh is in itself a city that exudes magic. It’s no wonder J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter here. But Edinburgh in December is a whole new level of magic. The Medieval Old Town is lit up with millions of lights, bringing warmth to the cold winter weather. For a Potterhead like me, Christmas in Edinburgh is the closest you’ll ever come to Christmas at Hogwarts. That’s why it’s one of the most festive Christmas destinations in Europe.
There are decorations and Christmas music everywhere as well as a giant Christmas market at the Princess Street Gardens. It is a huge, neon-lit beast of a market, nothing like the quaint ones in continental Europe, but nonetheless a lot of fun. I also recommend a trip to the Botanical Gardens which has beautiful light art installations every year in December.
Don’t mind the people walking around in crazy Holidays outfits, the office Christmas parties start in November already. I love a good Christmas sweater, but I draw the line at an inflatable turkey costume.
As a European, I don’t think you’ll find as much holiday cheer anywhere else. Whether it’s Austria, Germany or Scandinavia, there are so many festive Christmas destinations in Europe to choose from. These are just some of my favorites, but where will you be doing your Christmas shopping? Do you have any favorite festive destinations in Europe? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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18 thoughts on “The Best Christmas Destinations in Europe”
I have always wanted to see the Christmas markets in Germany. You are super lucky to have grown up visiting them. And this is such an amazing list of some of the best markets in Europe. Talinn was definitely a surprise for me. I have been planning a Christmas in Europe trip for long, so this will be helpful. Maybe I will traveling there next year. And thanks for letting me know about Sinterklaas. That was interesting.
These all sound so dreamy and immediately made me crave some mulled wine so I just whipped up a cup for one! I’ve never spent Christmas in Europe but I’ll be sure to bookmark this list for when I do. I loved reading about your traditions and how special those memories are. Also I can’t imagine real candles in the tree! Thanks for putting this together!
Haha the real candles only came when my little cousins were old enough to not play with them and set everything on fire 😉 I’m glad my post got you in the Christmas spirit
My friend always rave about Christmas markets in Germany, and I can see why! These places are definitely in my list, and getting ready to celebrate and spend.
There’s nothing like Christmas in Europe i.m.o.
Christmas fastival is my dream of every last month of the year. I love the festive feeling , songs and lights decoration. And also the christmas at Hamburg as you mentioned with the christmas markets are very interesting to be there. Can’t imagine if I be there to Hamburg, how lucky of mine.
I love Christmas too!
I want to just chime in and mention that I totally agree with the inclusion of Vienna here! It is literally the best Christmas destination that I’ve been too!
Haha it’s my ultimate Christmas city too
Great post!! I have never thought of spending Christmas anywhere else but back at home and I guess exploring a different place is a great way to be exposed with different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world. I would love to spend a Christmas in Tallinn the fact that the Christmas tree dates back to 1445 is so fascinating.
Thank you! I always celebrate at home, but these places are all great to visit in the month leading up to Christmas